September 2, 2018

Municipalities and Statues – The interplay between an artist’s copyrights and a municipality’s ownership in a statue

Can a municipality be required to conserve a statue? Can a municipality be prevented from moving or destroying a statue it lawfully owns?




A ruling was recently handed down stating that an artist does not have a right to prevent a municipality from taking down a statue and temporarily placing it in its storage until a decision on what to do with it next has been made, holding that such act does not harm his/her moral rights. This ruling is consistent with a series of rulings balancing the right of municipalities that commission work to decide what to do with statues they purchase with the right of artists not to have their statues damaged such that their value is reduced or reputation harmed.

Israel’s Copyright Law prescribes that the author has a moral right to his/her work such that the author is entitled to “his name being read on his work to a degree and extent appropriate for the case circumstances.” The law also stipulates that an author is entitled to compensation in a case where “damage has been inflicted on his work… or harmful act has been done with respect to said work, where either of them harms the author’s dignity or reputation.”

Courts have addressed the question of whether destroying a statue, moving it to a location different from where it was first placed or the failure to conserve the statue constitute harm to the moral right of the statue’s creator.

In June 2018 the Acre Labor Court issued a ruling in the case Ben Ezra v. City of Acre.[1] The plaintiff in the case, a municipal employee, argued that he is the artist of the sculpture known as the “Surfer Statue” which was placed at the square next to the naval academy in Acre, based on his idea and design, and he argued that the city was prevented from moving the statue from its original location. The labor court held that despite the city being the owner of the rights to the statue, having been created by one of its employees and commissioned by it, the artist still has a moral right to the statue. At the same time the court stated that moving the statue from its original location and placing it temporarily in storage until the city decides what to do with it does not harm the artist’s moral right and does not harm his dignity or reputation. It was also held that the municipality’s decision, the statue being moved to a temporary location, was made reasonably and for practical and professional reasons and that the city did not have to receive the plaintiff’s permission. It is worth noting that an appeal against this ruling is pending.

In another case, Knispel v. City of Haifa[2], the Haifa District Court ruled that destroying a statue amounts to an act that infringes upon an artist’s moral right by harming his dignity and reputation. The plaintiff of the case was a renowned artist in Israel and abroad, and he created a relief on the exterior wall of a school in Haifa. Later on, a number of tiles fell from the edge of the relief; the municipality removed the statue on the ground that it causes safety problems and then ended up destroying it. In that case the court ruled that the artist was not merely the holder of the moral right to the work, but also the holder of the economic right, since he gave the city permission to display it. The court asserted that the municipal rights to the statue, however, included the right to present it for an indeterminate amount of time at the location of its placement, and that if there was an appropriate reason to remove or move it, the municipality had to notify the artist and make the change with his consultation or in the manner he chooses, so long as this endangered no one. In any case, the court determined that the statue’s destruction was in breach of the artist’s moral right since disposing the work as refuse indicates that it had a value so negligible that it was not worth preserving. It was ultimately ruled that the artist was entitled to up to ILS 500,000 in compensation; this sum, however, was seemingly attributed mostly to the loss of tangible property rights in the statue rather than to the violation of the artist’s moral right. It is also worth noting that an appeal was filed against this ruling, which was concluded by way of settlement where the compensation was reduced to ILS 460,000.

The case of Bar Hama v. City of Kiryat Gat[3] dealt with two statues: one a monument in memory of the fallen and the other a sculpture of a flower. With regard to the memorial, the city renovated it in a style different from the original design and without any attempt to preserve the original character or colors of the work. As for the flower sculpture, it was neglected and finally removed inadvertently by a tractor and thrown away. The court ruled that although the municipality is entitled to set its economic priorities and that it is unreasonable to demand it to renovate statues at the expense of workers’ salaries, it is not entirely exempt from maintaining statues and must do its best to preserve them within the given budget. Regarding the memorial, it was held that the artist’s moral right was violated by the manner in which the work was treated; and with respect to the flower statue that rusted and was thrown away, it was held that although the city was first to remove it from its location in light of its age and the change in the conditions of the area it was erected in, there was nevertheless no justification to have it destroyed. The municipality was required to pay ILS 90,000.

In yet another case, Fabian v. City of Ramat Gan[4], a statue was removed from its original place in Rose Square in Ramat Gan , placed in the national park, and eventually was thrown away. The statue consisted of five columns which rose to a height of about seven meters with wind-powered weathervanes of about five to six meters in diameter revolving around an axis. At one point the artist discovered that the statue’s columns had been dismantled and the weathervanes were thrown on the floor all bent out of shape. The court ruled that the statue’s destruction constitutes violation of the artist’s moral right and the artist received compensation in the amount of ILS 45,000.

Finally in Tumarkin v. Kiryat Yam[5], the city commissioned the artist Yigal Tumarkin with three environmental sculptures to be placed in Kiryat Yam, sculptures entitled “Wall of Vibrations and Sundial” , “Wall” and “Day and Night”. The statue called “Wall of Vibrations and Sundial” was destroyed at some point by the municipality and replaced by another statue. The other two statues were neglected and untreated. The artist demanded the reconstruction of the statue that was destroyed and the preservation and maintenance of the other sculptures he created. The court compensated Tumarkin with a sum of ILS 280,000 for the statues having been neglected and one of them destroyed (but did not order the reconstruction of the destroyed statue).

The judgments cited above emphasize that municipalities’ ownership of an artistic work imposes an obligation upon them to duly maintain and preserve the work, within its budgetary constraints. It was unanimously agreed by all courts that the destruction of statues is an act violating the artists’ moral rights.

[1] DR (Haifa) 60826-01-15 Israel ben Ezra v. City of Acre published on 19 Jun 2018. On 26 Jun 2018 an appeal was filed to the National Labor Court (MLA (Nat.) 62275-06-18).
[2] CF (Haifa) 50172 Knispel v. City of Haifa, published on 3 Feb 2016. An appeal was filed (CA 2268/16) and will be concluded by settlement according to section 79a of the Courts Law.
[3] CF (Beer Sheva) Avner Bar Hama v. City of Kiryat Gat, published on Nevo on 7 Jun 2012.
[4] CF (TA) 73028/95 Freddie Fabian v. City of Ramat Gan, published on Nevo on 15 Sep 1997.
[5] CF 11264/97 Tumarkin v. Kiryat Yam, published on Nevo on 9 Jan 2001.

This article is provided for general information only. It is not intended as legal advice or opinion and cannot be relied upon as such. Advice on specific matters may be provided by our group’s attorneys.

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